Iowa DOT Historic Photos

1914 Iowa State Highway Commission (IHC) county maps

Clayton map
Maps in the 1914 IHC county maps collection were hand drawn on linen and represent the first set of county maps compiled by IHC, which was established in 1913.

Although each map is unique, they all bear the signatures of the original commissioners Anson Marston, J.W. Holden and H.C. Beard, as well as Highway Engineer T.H. MacDonald. Each certified that the routes marked in red were part of Iowa’s officially adopted county road system. 

Many of the maps feature annotations and additions to the road system over the ensuing decades, showing that Iowa’s roads, then as now, were continually evolving to meet Iowans’ needs.

Although the collection contains 102 maps, one of Iowa’s 99 counties, Mills County, is not in this collection, whereas Warren, Montgomery and Allamakee counties are represented by two maps each, and Washington County’s map is supplemented with a support document listing the changes to its road system between 1930 and 1941.

1916 Iowa lakes and lake beds

This collection contains 69 topographic maps of Iowa's lakes prepared during development of the1916 Report of the State Highway Commission on the Iowa Lakes and Lake Beds.  

In 1915, the Iowa legislature directed the State Highway Commission to make an examination of and publish a report on the lakes and lakebeds of Iowa that had not been drained or in the drainage of which $500 had not been expended.  It further directed that the report divide the lakes into three classes, those that should be:
  1. preserved;
  2. drained;
  3. drained and the land sold.
  The law authorized the Highway Commission to use any employees of the engineering departments of the State College (now Iowa State University) and State University of Iowa in making the required surveys and investigations, and in preparation of the report. Students of the institutions were allowed to assist, unpaid, in the work.

The investigation work required two years of extensive field engineering and included the topographical survey of approximately 90,000 acres, as depicted in the maps included in this collection. Each map was so complete in detail that it could be used as the foundation for future action, including immediate action if Iowa's lakes were to be conserved before it was too late.  In fact, the report stated: "Iowa's lakes are, in general, rapidly losing their natural charms. They are becoming less attractive and less useful. Iowa's lake problem is acute."

The Highway Commission, through its Department of Drainage, coordinated the work of the other state departments and universities, made surveys of 24 lakes, including 63,926 acres of topography, prepared the maps of all the lakes, estimated the cost of drainage or improvement, and compiled the report.  The commissioners personally inspected each of the lakes; conferred with property owners, citizens and public officials; investigated the special problems in connection with each lake; and classified the lakes into the three classes outlined in the law.

The commission's findings included this statement: "The Commission is strongly impressed with the growing importance of the lakes and the necessity for their preservation and improvement. The lakes are Iowa's birthright. Their ownership came to her when she became a sovereign state. Iowa holds her lakes as trust for the public."

The report and maps continue to play an important role in efforts to conserve Iowa's natural resources, and are referred to frequently by environmental professionals across the state and region.

Airport Improvement Plan

NORTH AERIAL VIEW OF CHEROKEE MUNICIPAL AIRPORTThe Iowa Airport Improvement Plan (AIP) collection contains 268 photographs of Iowa's airports arranged alphabetically by city. It was originally compiled by Glenn Miller of the Iowa Aeronautics Commission. 

Iowa is required to prepare and submit an annual airport improvement plan to the Federal Aviation Administration to seek federal funding for capital improvement projects at the state's general aviation and commercial service airports that are part of the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems, commonly referred to as NPIAS airports.

The majority of the photographs are aerial views of the airports, although the collection also contains photographs of the runways, facilities, hangars, airplanes, and even ceremonies at various airports.  The collection did not include dates of the photos; however, a 1975 article pertaining to Glenn Miller and the Iowa Airport Development Program in Transtopics can be used to assign approximate dates.  Most of the photos are circa 1970s, but there are a few dating as early as the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.[1]  A copy of the 1975 Iowa Airport Directory also assisted in making it possible to ascertain the perspective/view of a majority of the photos. 

The Commission on Aeronautics was established in 1933 and continued until 1945. The Iowa Aeronautics Commission was established in 1945 and continued until 1975. In 1974, the Iowa General Assembly created the Iowa Department of Transportation and placed the Iowa Aeronautics Commission under the department's responsibility effective July 1, 1975, to promote more orderly and effective planning and funding of programs, and to achieve

[1] Iowa DOT, "Rebuilding for Tomorrow." Transtopics, October, 1975, 4-5.

Grand Avenue, Ames, Iowa: 1936-1938 collection

The photos in this collection were taken during the construction of the Grand Avenue railroad underpass in Ames, Iowa.  The project originated in 1936 and was completed in 1938.  

As with many public works projects, construction of the Grand Avenue railroad underpass was not without its share of controversy and opposition.  A group of Ames citizens/taxpayers voiced their opposition to the city's intended use of surplus and Light and Water Fund revenues for the city's share of the project's costs. Use of the funds required a public vote.

In the opposing citizen's advertisement published Nov. 2, 1936, in the Ames Daily Tribune, the group encouraged a "No Vote" and stated that the surplus funds should be used to lower rates or taxes so that all electricity and water users would benefit, versus being used for the underpass' construction.

The citizen group also claimed that the C. & N.W. Railroad would be the real beneficiary of the underpass project, and the railroad was not contributing to the construction costs.

Citizens opposing the project also contended that the purpose of the project, which was to address local traffic problems, would not be accomplished.  They alleged that the project would simply shift the problem to other streets, create increased safety problems for the 800 school children who used these streets, and be detrimental to the adjacent main street business district.

The opposition movement was not successful.  In the 1936 election, the citizens of Ames approved by majority vote use of $25,000 in surplus Light and Water Fund revenues for the underpass project.

In August 1937, following two years of planning, the Iowa State Highway Commission let the bid for construction of the Grand Avenue railroad underpass from Fifth Street to Lincoln Way.  The successful bidder was Ben Cole and Son of Ames, who at the time was a leading bridge contractor in Iowa.  The total bid was $282,822. 

The bid was accepted by the commission and the project submitted to the Omaha office of the U.S. Department of Public Roads for final approval.  Approval was required because the project was financed, with the exception of the right of way costs, by the federal grade crossing elimination program.  The project was subsequently approved by the federal agency (project number Federal Aid Grade Municipal #FAGM 72-E).

On March 2, 1938, an agreement was officially drawn between the city of Ames and Iowa State Highway Commission in which the city agreed to contribute $25,000 toward the cost of constructing the Grand Avenue railroad underpass.  The Iowa State Highway Commission also agreed to reimburse the city for all project-related costs that exceeded $25,000 and to hold the city harmless from any litigation arising from the construction of the project and damages suffered by any firm, corporation, partnership, or individual by virtue of the construction, which exceeded $25,000.

The total cost of acquiring the right of way for this project was $70,890.  From the sale of the acquired buildings, the Highway Commission received $1,959.  This left a balance of $68,931.  The city paid their $25,000 share and the Iowa State Highway Commission authorized the expenditure of the remaining $43,931 from state funds.

In addition to these initial right-of-way costs, the Iowa State Highway Commission paid for relocating the depot, loading platform and two east tracks of the Fort Dodge, Des Moines and Southern Railway (interurban).

Clearing of the right of way occurred in 1937 in advance of the construction project's start date.  Buildings were closed and torn down or moved.

According to published reports, this was the largest construction project for the state outside of Des Moines and Sioux City.  The accelerated construction contract called for work to continue through the winter of 1937, weather permitting, and had a targeted completion of Aug. 1, 1938.

Embedded in the landscape of the Great Depression, amidst the larger public works projects of the 1930s, the Grand Avenue project stands as testament to the smaller movements that transformed the American landscape, one city at a time. 

[1] Iowa DOT, "Rebuilding for Tomorrow." Transtopics, October, 1975, 4-5.

Huebinger's atlas collection

Officially endorsed by the American Automobile Association, the Huebinger’s Automobile and Good Road Atlas of Iowa was published by the Iowa Publishing Co. in 1912.  The company was originally located in Davenport under President Melchoir Huebinger.  It later moved to Des Moines under the patronage of one of Des Moines most influential and wealthiest citizens, Frederick M. Hubbell. 

With the assistance of many Iowa Highway Commission officials, the atlas proved to be one of the most important documents available to anyone at the time interested in traversing the thousands of miles of Iowa roadways.

Ideologically, the publication served two primary goals.  First, many prominent Iowa citizens were interested in using the atlas to stimulate the Good Roads Movement.  Second, other individuals were interested addressing the growing need to show in detail the thousands of miles of road that ran through the state. 

This collection contains engravings and lithographs (some hand-colored), as well as photogravures presented in a photomontage style, where several different images of towns and advertising appear on the same page. There are also many pages devoted to images of prominent citizens of Iowa. Of the 131 plates (a portion of the entire atlas) the images primarily consist of state and county road maps.  Images of early road association markers, advertisements for many Iowa locations, and a historical foreword are also included.       

The atlas in its entirety is available for viewing at the Iowa Department of Transportation’s library.

I-480 bridge

I-480The Interstate 480 bridge collection is a series of 140 photographs depicting construction of the nearly 5-mile long I-480 bridge over the Missouri River connecting Omaha, Nebraska. and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

I-480 is a loop highway that connects downtown Omaha, Nebr. (at a junction with I-80 and U.S. 75) with Council Bluffs, Iowa, at a junction with I-29. U.S. 6 runs jointly with I-480 for a short distance from Council Bluffs across the Missouri River.

The Nebraska portion of the bridge is known as the Gerald R. Ford Freeway, named after the former president, an Omaha native. The bridge passes near the Gerald R. Ford Birthsite and Gardens.

The I-480 bridge, a girder bridge, replaced the Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge, which was built in 1888.  The Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge was a truss bridge that was the first road bridge to cross the Missouri River connecting Omaha and Council Bluffs. Originally called the Douglas Street bridge, it was built by the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Co. and was designed to handle street cars. It was constructed as a toll facility. A group of businessmen formed the “Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben” (Nebraska spelled backwards) to buy the bridge with the intention of making it a toll-free bridge. They continued to charge tolls until 1947, when it, along with the South Omaha bridge, became toll-free. The despised toll booths were paraded through Omaha to celebrate Free Bridge Day on Sept. 25, 1947.

Attempts to salvage the Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge as a pedestrian walkway were unsuccessful and it was demolished in 1968, although the west pier remains in the river just south of the interstate.

Beginning in November 1963 and ending in October 1966, construction of the I-480 bridge was photographed each month, and pertinent information carefully recorded in captions on each photo. The Iowa segment, 0.75 miles of the bridge’s total 4.9 miles, opened Oct. 21, 1966.[1]

Such consistent and accurate documentation makes this collection especially helpful to researchers and enthusiasts.

The Nebraska Department of Roads is rebuilding the I-480 and U.S. 75 interchange.  Planning and environmental work for the project started in 2005. Construction was originally scheduled to begin in 2009, but has been delayed to 2011 due to a lack of sufficient funding. 

IHC photograph collection

ROCK ISLAND RAILROAD CABOOSE PASSING THROUGH UHL RAILROAD CROSSING NEAR AUTOMOBILE WRECKAGEThe “IHC Photographs” collection contains approximately 8,500 photographs taken over a 60-year period (1914 to 1970s) of the agency’s operations.

Photographs are organized into 36 alphabetized groups (i.e., bridges, culverts or rivers), allowing a better overall understanding of the collection’s contents.   All photos have been scanned, and approximately 3/4 have been identified, indexed, and made available online.

Julien Dubuque Bridge

Julien Dubuqe BridgeThe Julien Dubuque Bridge is a three-span, continuous tied-arch truss with girder approaches that extends 5,760 feet long and is 29 feet wide. It carries two lanes of traffic and a single pedestrian walkway.  The bridge traverses the Mississippi River and joins the cities of Dubuque, Iowa, and East Dubuque, Ill. The bridge is part of U.S. 20 and was originally painted gray to help camouflage it in case of enemy attack.

The bridge was designed by Edward L. “Ned” Ashton of Iowa City, distinguished bridge designer and engineer, and Professor of Civil Engineering at the University.

Opened in 1943, the bridge replaced the 1887-constructed “High Bridge” or “Wagon Bridge,” which was demolished after the completion of the Julien Dubuque.

The Julien Dubuque Bridge was awarded the American Steel Award for Beauty in 1943, and it also bears the distinction of being one of the longest continuous truss bridges in the United States. The namesake for the bridge comes from a French fur trader who, with the permission of the Fox Indians in 1778, started the lead-mining industry that the burgeoning town of Dubuque would grow up around. In 1832, the townspeople of Dubuque named their village after this pioneering Frenchman.[1]

The Julien Dubuque Bridge collection contains 183 negatives documenting the building of the bridge from June 1941 to June 1943.  The foundation was contracted to Robers Construction Co. and the La Crosse Dredging Corporation; and steel fabrication and erection of the superstructure were done by Bethlehem Steel.[2]

For more information about the early history of Dubuque and the Julien Dubuque Bridge, visit the DOT’s Historic Bridges Web site at

[1] Costello, Mary Charlotte Aubry. Climbing the Mississippi River Bridge By Bridge, Volume One: From Louisiana to Minnesota. Published by Mary C. Costello, 1995.

[2] Dennett, Muessig & Associates, Ltd. Interstate Bridges to Iowa: A Descriptive List of Bridges Over the Mississippi, Missouri, Des Moines and Big Sioux Rivers. Published by Dennett, Muessig & Associates, 1982.

Lantern slide collection

Lantern SlideThe Iowa Department of Transportation invites you to discover and view some of the agency’s 1,259 lantern slides depicting various historical transportation subjects.

These treasured images were captured from around the end of the 19th century through the first part of the 20th century at locations throughout the state.  The majority of images were shown at Iowa Highway Commission or industry meetings.

The slides measure 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 by 4 inches.  The vast majority of the images are black and white; however, some of the slides have been crudely hand-colored or painted.  The slide on the right illustrates the colorization.

Slides in this collection are not the "master images," rather they are printed from a negative in a similar fashion to a photograph.  No longer in the department’s possession, it is unknown if the original images still exist, making this collection an even more valuable historical resource.

Lantern slides were projected through a "magic lantern" so they could be viewed by an audience. The images were projected on walls, cloth drapes, and, sometimes, on a wet cloth from behind the "screen." Naturally, to see images appear, either from a lantern, that was a light source only, or onto a screen, was "magical" in those early days.

History of lantern slide projection

The practice of projecting images from glass plates began centuries before the invention of photography in 1827. The Magic Lantern, or Sturm Lantern, was invented in 1676 and may have been one of the first slide projectors. The Magic Lantern was used to project painted images on glass for children's picture shows and for religious displays.

Lantern SlideIn the 1840s, Philadelphia daguerreotypists, William and Frederick Langenheim, began experimenting with the Magic Lantern as an apparatus for displaying their photographic images. Because the opaque nature of the daguerreotype prevented projection, the brothers looked for a medium that would create a transparent image. They employed the discoveries of the French inventor, Niépce de St. Victor, who had discovered a way to adhere a light-sensitive solution onto glass for the creation of a negative. By using that negative to print onto another sheet of glass, rather than onto paper, the Langenheims were able to create a transparent positive image suitable for projection. The brothers patented their invention in 1850 and called it a Hyalotype.

The Langenheims envisioned their slides as forms of entertainment, charging a fee to watch their picture shows. However, within a few years lantern slides began to fulfill a variety of purposes. While entertainment remained an important function well into the 20th century, lantern slides had the greatest impact on educational lectures.

How lantern slides were produced

Lantern Slide and How to Make ThemIn addition to application of the photographic medium, the process for creating lantern slides remained primarily the same throughout their 100-year history. There were two ways of printing the images: (1) the contact method; and (2) the camera method.

The first method dictated placing the negative directly on the light-sensitive glass. This required that the negative was the correct size to produce the 3.5 x 4 inch slide.

For larger negatives, the camera method was necessary. Using a camera with a long bed and bellows, the negative and glass were both placed in the camera and printed by exposing the glass to daylight or artificial light.

After exposure in both cases, the latent image was developed out with chemicals. After the plate was dried, the image could be hand-colored using special tints. The slide was finished with a mat and a glass cover and was taped to seal the enclosure.

Lantern slide projectors

Lantern Slide
Shown on the left is the Gloria Lantern made by Ernst Plank and Co. in around 1908. On the right is an unknown model of an electrified lantern.
Lantern slides were placed within a lantern slide projector so they could be viewed on a wall or screen. The first projectors used oil lamps for light. By 1870, limelight, produced by burning oxygen and hydrogen on a pellet of lime, offered a better, although more dangerous, form of illumination. In the 1890s, the invention of the carbon arc lamp, followed by electric light, provided a safe method for displaying the lantern slide image.

The decline of lantern slides

Use of lantern slides lasted throughout the remainder of the 19th century and until the 1950s when their popularity began to decline with the introduction of the smaller 2 x 2 transparencies. Finally, the discovery of the Kodachrome, three-color process made 35 mm slides less expensive to produce than lantern slides.

Due to their susceptibility to breakage and deterioration, the lantern slides in the Iowa DOT's collection have been photographed and digitized so they can be readily shared.

We hope that you enjoy this amazing collection, which appeals to a wide variety of audiences, including historians, transportation interests, researchers, educators, students, authors, film producers, and others.

1958 Des Moines Aluminum Bridge

Des Moines aluminum bridgeThis collection of 224 images depicts construction of one of five aluminum bridges (or bridge pairs) built in the United States over a seven-year period (1958-67). Iowa's aluminum bridge, erected in 1958, was a two-lane, four-span structure carrying 86th Street over four-lane Interstate 35/80 in Urbandale (within the Des Moines metropolitan area). It was the first welded-plate aluminum girder bridge constructed in North America.

Why aluminum?

The United States rebounded quickly and enjoyed rapid economic growth and modernization after the conclusions of World War II (1939-1945) and the Korean War (1950-1953). A boon in the building industry was experienced in the United States, France, Soviet Union, Asia and Japan, which led to an acute worldwide steel shortage. The shortage of raw materials, long wait times (as much as 18 months) for bridge members to be fabricated and delivered, and the expense of steel during this period forced bridge engineers to consider use of alternative bridge building materials. It also challenged them to engineer new material-saving bridge designs.